“Ladies and gentlemen, the main event of the evening, 12 rounds of boxing, for the universally recognized Middleweight championship of the world!”
As both Kelly Pavlik and Jermain Taylor paced in their corners, ring announcer Michael Buffer continued. “And now, undefeated challenger versus undefeated champion. Somebody’s O has gotta go!”
On September 29, a near sellout crowd was on hand in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall as the champion, Taylor, was making the fifth defense of his WBC and WBO Middleweight crown.
The year was 2007.
Just two years earlier, Taylor had won the lineal Middleweight championship from Bernard Hopkins. In the rematch nearly five months later, he again defeated Hopkins to solidify his standing as the lynchpin of the division.
Unfortunately for Taylor, now 29, wins against Raul Marquez, William Joppy and most notably the pair over Hopkins, hadn’t silenced many of his detractors. Perhaps unfairly, many felt the talented Taylor was underachieving and not living up to expectations.
Now enter new trainer Emanuel Steward. Preparing for their fourth fight together, Steward joined the Taylor camp in hopes of improving Taylor’s style, skills and, ultimately, his likability amongst boxing aficionados.
From Little Rock, Arkansas, Taylor (27-0-1, 17 KOs) had only one blemish on his record stemming from a June 2006 draw against Winky Wright.
His challenger was a young, strong upstart who had put his name on the map just four months before.
The 25-year-old Pavlik had run his record to 30 straight wins without a loss when he then etched his name and face in the minds of boxing fans. Win number 31 came in a stellar performance when he proceeded to take apart Edison Miranda. The tough Miranda was well known and widely expected to challenge Taylor in the fall.
In what was billed as a title elimination fight, Pavlik brutally landed vicious power punches, almost at will, breaking down and ultimately finishing Miranda inside seven rounds.
After Pavlik (31-0, 28 KOs) issued his own version of a Miranda warning, his eyes were now focused on the titles and the man who held them.
Many of the Pavlik faithful traveled from Youngstown, Ohio to support their man. The crowd inside Convention Hall was clearly a pro-Pavlik crowd as they cheered wildly during his ring walk and conversely booed Taylor during his.
Seated near ringside was another Youngstown native, the legendary Ray “Boom-Boom” Mancini, who was introduced by Buffer and received a raucous ovation inside Convention Hall.
Odds makers had the betting line near even until the final hours before the fight when the odds then swayed in Taylor’s direction. He settled in as an 8-5 favorite.
The bout aired live on HBO with Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant and Lennox Lewis ringside to call the action. Both fighters looked to be in sensational shape as they weighed in just under the 160-pound limit.
After Buffer delivered his trademark phrase, “Let’s get ready to rumble,” veteran referee Steve Smoger, a man described as a punchers referee not known for quick stoppages, then provided final instructions at mid ring.
The intensity was near overflow as neither man seemed interested in touching gloves. While each glared at the other, Lewis described the moment, “Looks like to me that they have some disdain for each other. They mean business.”
The first round began with Taylor instantly firing a sweeping right hand. Wearing white trunks trimmed in red, the champion quickly stepped in at an opponent who was perceived to be the stronger of the two.
At 6’2” tall, Pavlik owned a one-inch height and one-inch reach advantage over the champion. Donned in silver trunks with “Kelly” embossed on his waistband, he immediately responded by launching a long left jab and looked to set up a one-two combination.
Taylor continued to step inside and pound at Pavlik who began launching heavy artillery of his own.
The toe-to-toe fireworks continued into Round 2. Just over a minute into the round, Taylor landed a heat-seeking right hand that thudded home on the challengers jaw. As Pavlik moved away, he stuck his chin out to clown the champion.
The decision proved unwise as Taylor unleashed a ferocious three-punch combination. All three punches landed flush and Pavlik suddenly crumbled to his knees.
A stunned Lampley boomed, “Kelly Pavlik getting strafed by right hands! And now Pavlik falls down! That was a tremendous barrage!”
With well over a minute left in Round 2, Lampley was forced to call the action over a roaring crowd that was on its collective feet.
Having fought back and making it through the round, a ringside doctor was waiting for Pavlik as he returned to his corner with a bloody nose. While his trainer, Jack Loew, squeezed his nose with a towel, Pavlik smiled at him, “That was a good shot.”
Seconds later, Smoger peeked in the corner, “How ya’ doin’ baby?” Pavlik, still smiling, greeted him with a gentle nod and an assurance, “I’m good, yeah.”
Pavlik’s desire and determination, like Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart,” was still beating.
As Round 3 began, it quickly became apparent that Pavlik would prove himself right. The challenger pressed forward and resumed an unrelenting attack to the head and the body of the champion.
With seconds remaining in the third, Lampley summarized the round as Pavlik gained the upper hand and backed the champion into a corner. Pavlik has tactically controlled this round! And backs Taylor off! Tremendous combination! Takes a thudding right hand!”
With Taylor trapped in a corner, the bell sounded to end the round leaving Merchant to opine, “Gentlemen, we have a fight.”
After four rounds had been completed, unofficial judge Harold Lederman scored the action 38-37 for Pavlik. While the challenger’s corner continued to treat the flow of blood from his nose, Taylor’s corner now iced a swelling right eye and cheek bone.
As the bell rang to begin Round 6, Merchant concluded, “This must be a pretty good fight Jim. I’ve already got five dots of blood on my shirt.”
The early animosity had now subsided as both fighters touched gloves to begin the round. After 15 minutes of give-and-take action, it was clear each had earned the others respect. The bombs and fireworks continued as both took turns leading, countering, and hammering away.
Both men were on their toes to start the seventh. Each followed their jab with a variety of tools from their arsenal. Right hands, left hooks, uppercuts and body shots were carefully launched and landed by each man.
Round 7 was rapidly deteriorating into a slugfest closely mirroring Round 2.
With exactly one minute remaining in the round, Pavlik countered a Taylor jab with a thunderous overhand right. The punch froze Taylor stopping him dead in his tracks.
Pavlik then followed up the advantage with a pair of left jabs followed by another right hand that had now found a permanent home on the Taylor chin.
A wounded Taylor retreated into the challenger’s corner with Pavlik giving him no room to breathe. The crowd rose, sensing the champion was in trouble as Lampley called the final seconds, “And that right hand hurt Taylor! Taylor is stunned! Left hook drives Taylor’s head up! Uppercut! Down goes Taylor!”
As Taylor crumbed to the canvas, Smoger leaped in to waive off the action and to signify the bout was over. The panoramic camera angle that captured the final seconds of the bout showed every person at ringside, including the Pavlik corner, on their feet, jumping up and down, cheering and pumping their fists.
It was a merciless pounding that had evolved into a dramatic scene as Pavlik then raced across the ring, hands raised skyward in victory, and leaped onto the ropes in triumph.
Lampley continued, “There’s a brand new Middleweight champion! He’s from Youngstown Ohio!”
Merchant coolly summed the night up in remarkable brevity, “The difference in this fight, one man got off the floor, the other man didn’t.”
Merchant, speaking to the new champion in the post-fight interview, asked Pavlik to describe the moment in the second round when he went down and what was running through his mind.
“You really want to know what I thought? Shit this is going to be a long night.”
Taylor quickly left the ring and was later interviewed in his dressing room by Merchant. He was visibly shaken after the devastating stoppage as he then shared his hopes of a rematch.
A rematch did take place the following February in Las Vegas. Taylor, this time without Emanuel Steward, lost via a unanimous decision.
The bout, which officially ended by way of a TKO at 2:14 in Round 7, was chosen as the 2007 Boxing Writers Association of America “Fight of the Year.”
It was a well-deserved honor and remains one of the great action fights in Middleweight history.
Header photo by Will Hart/HBO